Court monitoring is a process of observing and gathering information on court practices and procedures and a vehicle for promoting improvements in the justice system, thereby reducing the incidence of corruption, violence and human rights abuse within legal systems.
Monitoring is best done by outside observers, typically volunteers, who have no stake in the outcome of the proceedings.
Court monitoring engages the public to improve the justice system, holds the justice system to account, promotes an open and transparent court process. Independent feedback can be provided on individual cases, as well as to assist legal system reform by identifying problem patterns and issues in a court system and proposing practical solutions. Public awareness of and public trust in the justice system also improve with court monitoring.
It is intended that OpenTrial court monitors will be physically present in courtrooms around the world on a regular basis. These individuals will be volunteers and staff of OpenTrial, some of whom will have received training in the criminal and civil justice processes, courtroom protocols, fair trial criteria and monitoring goals. The regular presence of monitors reminds all justice system personnel, including judges, lawyers, clerks and administrative personnel, that they are accountable to the public and that the public is interested in what happens in the courtroom.
It is essential that a court report is a fair and accurate summary of what happens in court. Our monitors will watch for and note such things as the following:
the location and type of the court.
the name of the judge/s.
the name of the defendant/s, their age and address (this may be a prison).
details of the charge/s.
whether the plea is guilty or not guilty (a trial indicates a plea of not guilty).
compliance with court protocol and fair trial criteria
clarity of explanations given by judges and lawyers,
any disruptions in the courtroom,
the Identity (name, age and address) of defendants and witnesses (there may be certain restrictions, such as children under 16 and victims in cases of rape and sexual assault).
For specific hearings, volunteers might be asked to note particular rulings, comments and data that are outlined on monitoring forms tailored to that hearing or using a smartphone app.
Monitors' notes and uploadings onto the internet are to be reviewed by OpenTrial, which may wish to investigate a case further or to comment on the case, either complimenting a judge or other system personnel or pointing out a problem with the way the case was handled. OpenTrial staff may wish to review court records and files to obtain information about individual cases or patterns and trends in the justice system.
OpenTrial may publicise the results of cases through newsletters, its website or through the media to promote public awareness of these cases and their impact on society.
OpenTrial aims to:
maintain a constructive, rather than adversarial relationship with the justice system, by working to maintain cooperative relationships with judges, police, prosecutors and lawyers;
help the justice system reach its potential by identifying shortcomings, recommending practical solutions and advocating for change;
communicate and share information with organisations and agencies that provide direct legal services and advocacy;
recognize and attempt to understand the dilemmas and complexity of the decisions that justice system personnel face; and
help ensure that a balance is achieved between defendant’s rights and the safety of the community; between efficient proceedings and effective outcomes; between swift discipline and compassionate rehabilitation
Change takes time and is a continual process. Court monitors can make recommendations, but they may not have the power to bring about the actual changes. Furthermore, those who staff legal systems can be entrenched and resistant (even hostile) to change
PREREQUISITES FOR MONITORING:
(1) Some understanding of the criminal justice system (e.g. how cases progress through the system and the responsibilities of each player within the legal system).
(2) Clearly defined initial objectives and resource allocation (human and financial) directed at achieving the objectives (e.g. which cases and fair trial criteria to watch).
(3) Diversified feedback from all segments of the community, particularly from those within the criminal justice system, to help establish a non-adversarial relationship between the monitoring programme and the judicial system. This is critical to the sustainability and success of the project.
OpenTrial may also track certain cases or officials. Tracking helps identify a judicial system's response over time and can be particularly useful in identifying systemic failures.
WORKING WITH THE GOVERNMENT AND JUDICIARY
Information gathered through monitoring activities can be used to raise public awareness and advocate for change. OpenTrial efforts will focus on four groups: legal system personnel, the legislature, the public, and the media. Lobbying, community education and media relations are strategies which can be employed.
Establishing and maintaining open and effective relationships with judicial personnel, however, is of particular concern. The following guidelines will be followed:
Provide regular feedback about what court monitors observe through letters or meetings;
Demonstrate an understanding of the dilemmas and the complexity of the decisions that legal system personnel face. Make their arguments for them. Show an understanding of the situation before seeking to make OpenTrial's position understood;
Only criticise when able to make a reasonable recommendation;
Seek to develop good relationships with lawyers and others by sharing information and listening to their input, while always taking care to maintain objectivity.
Find ways to recognize and honour those working in the system who have integrity and do an exceptional job.
OpenTrial's Fair Trial Smartphone App.
Our new fair trial smartphone app. is all about rights awareness and aids the monitoring of trials by the lay person. The app. - which is based on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - has a check-list that can be used in prisons and courts around the world. It does not require much knowledge of the law to use it.
It helps the ordinary person understand what to expect in terms of fair treatment under the law. It takes the user through ten basic fair trial rights, asking simple questions to establish whether those rights have been complied with.
It is an ideal tool for the detained, those undergoing trial and their supporters; a tool which lawyers, police, prosecutors, judges, NGOs, activists, trial monitors, consulates, students, etc. may also find useful.
Mobile phones are fairly common in the jails of many developing countries, so an app. with fair trial check-list could be downloaded by the detained.
When our premium fair trial checklist is ready, it will permit trial reports to be uploaded to the internet for public scrutiny, which will further deter corruption and violence in justice sectors and, thus, aid justice in being done.
Our current app. can be downloaded to your Android smartphone from Google Play.
Contact us now to help us work for justice. Awareness, transparency and accountability change the law-society interface and dynamics, so that fair trials and equality before the law can become a reality through societal pressure. You can donate to our work here: